The Tang suit originated from the Tang Dynasty but is often confused with Qing Dynasty Manchu attire.
The Flourishing of Tang Dynasty Culture
The Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) is often regarded as the golden age of Chinese civilization, marked by a prosperous economy, advances in arts, and the spread of Chinese culture beyond its borders. The Tang capital, Chang’an (modern-day Xi’an), became a cosmopolitan hub, with a population exceeding one million, making it one of the world’s largest cities at that time.
Poetry was highly esteemed during this period, with revered poets like Li Bai and Du Fu penning works that are still celebrated today. Arts and crafts, such as pottery, painting, and calligraphy, thrived.
The Tang Dynasty also championed religious tolerance. Buddhism, in particular, witnessed a significant rise in prominence, leading to the construction of monumental structures like the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda in Chang’an.
Influence of Silk Road Trade
The Silk Road, a network of trade routes connecting the East to the West, played a pivotal role in the economic and cultural prosperity of the Tang Dynasty. It facilitated the exchange of goods, knowledge, and ideas between civilizations.
China, being at one end of this vast trade network, exported a myriad of products, notably silk, porcelain, tea, and paper. In return, China imported commodities like gold, ivory, precious stones, and various spices.
This extensive trade also led to cultural and technological exchanges. For instance, the technique of making paper, a Chinese invention, spread to the Middle East and subsequently to Europe. Conversely, China adopted numerous external influences, with Persia, India, and Central Asia contributing significantly to the Tang’s diverse cultural tapestry.
The Silk Road also spurred the movement of people, bringing scholars, merchants, monks, and travelers to China. These interactions fostered a sense of global interconnectedness, enriching Tang Dynasty culture and leaving an indelible mark on the course of world history.
Design and Features of the Tang Suit
The Distinctive Collar and Fastenings
One of the standout features of the Tang suit is its upright collar, known for its elegance and functionality. Originating from the Tang Dynasty clothing styles, this collar typically has a height of around 2 to 3 inches.
The fastenings, often called “frog fastenings,” consist of intricately knotted fabric buttons and loops. These not only serve a practical purpose but also add an aesthetic appeal to the suit. In the Tang Dynasty, the number of fastenings could range from three to seven, with five being the most common.
Materials and Fabrics Used
Silk, being one of China’s most renowned exports and a symbol of luxury, was the primary material for Tang suits, especially for the elite and royalty. The silk used often had a thickness of around 0.025 mm, making the garments lightweight yet durable. Additionally, the luminous sheen of silk added to the suit’s elegance, enhancing its visual appeal.
Apart from silk, other materials like linen, hemp, and ramie were used for everyday clothing, especially in warmer climates due to their breathable qualities. With the Silk Road facilitating trade, cotton, imported from India, started gaining popularity during the latter part of the Tang Dynasty.
Popular Colors and Patterns
Imperial yellow, reserved exclusively for the emperor, symbolized power and divine protection.
Patterns and designs on Tang suits were diverse and intricate. In terms of dimensions, these embroidered patterns could span anywhere from 2 to 10 inches, depending on the garment’s size and purpose.
The Misconception of the Modern Tang Suit
Influence of Manchu and Qing Clothing
The Tang suit many recognize today is not a direct representation of the actual garments worn during the Tang Dynasty. One major influence comes from the Manchu clothing of the Qing Dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of China. During the Qing Dynasty, the Manchu-style robe, with its straight cut and distinctive fastenings, became popular and eventually a standard form of attire. While Tang suits traditionally had an upright collar with a thickness of around 2 inches, the Qing influenced garments sported broader collars, sometimes up to 5 inches wide.
Another distinction lies in the sleeves. The Manchu-inspired sleeves were often wider and could extend up to 30 inches in some cases, especially in winter garments designed to keep out the cold.
Western Perceptions and Adaptations
As China opened up to the West, especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the unique blend of Manchu-Qing style garments caught the eyes of Westerners. These clothes, wrongly identified as “Tang suits,” began appearing in Western films, theater, and literature. Hollywood, in its bid to present an exotic and mysterious East, often dressed characters in these suits, further embedding the misconception in the Western psyche.
The Cultural Renaissance in Modern China
In recent years, there’s been a resurgence of interest in traditional Chinese culture and attire. The “Hanfu movement” seeks to bring back the clothing styles from the Han Dynasty and other periods, including the Tang. This movement, fueled by a combination of national pride and a yearning for authentic cultural representation, has led to a clearer distinction between the genuine Tang attire and the modern, mislabeled “Tang suit.”
The younger generation, in particular, is playing a pivotal role in this renaissance. Social media platforms showcase thousands of Hanfu enthusiasts sharing their customized creations, with some dresses boasting intricate designs that take over 100 hours to complete. This movement is not just about fashion; it’s a statement about identity, heritage, and the reclaiming of China’s sartorial history.
The Tang Suit in Popular Culture
Films, Television, and Performances
The Tang suit, with its rich history and striking aesthetics, has made several appearances in films and television shows around the world. Movies such as “The Last Emperor,” which chronicles the life of Puyi, the last Emperor of China, showcased characters donning these suits, though the time setting was during the Qing Dynasty.
Chinese historical dramas, a popular genre in China, often feature accurate depictions of Tang attire, enhancing their historical authenticity. One notable example is the drama “The Empress of China,” which focuses on the life of Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in China’s history. The series is renowned for its detailed costume design, with Tang suits meticulously crafted to match historical records. Each suit in the show, on average, took about 40 hours to make, showcasing the dedication to authenticity.
The Tang suit has also graced international stages in performances. The Shen Yun Performing Arts, a renowned global performance group, frequently incorporates Tang suits in their dance routines, presenting ancient Chinese culture to worldwide audiences.
Contemporary Fashion and Fusion Wear
In the realm of fashion, the Tang suit has not just remained a historical relic but has evolved to inspire modern designers. Global fashion weeks have seen Tang suit-inspired designs hit the runway, with designers infusing contemporary elements into the traditional form. A notable trend is the incorporation of the Tang suit’s signature upright collar into modern blouses, shirts, and jackets.
Fusion wear, a blend of Western and Eastern elements, has also seen the Tang suit being reimagined. In Shanghai’s fashion district, it’s not uncommon to see Tang suit jackets paired with jeans or skirts, creating a harmonious blend of the old and the new. Some of these fusion pieces, made from premium silk and adorned with hand-embroidered patterns, can fetch prices upwards of $1,000, highlighting the Tang suit’s enduring appeal and value in the fashion world.
Several notable fashion brands have also launched limited-edition collections inspired by the Tang suit, adding a touch of luxury to this traditional attire. These collections often emphasize the use of high-quality materials, with some garments boasting a silk thread count of 600 per inch, ensuring both comfort and elegance for the wearer.